Friday, February 29, 2008

Preparation for armagedon - a seed vault (ny times)

LONGYEARBYEN, Norway — With plant species disappearing at an alarming rate, scientists and governments are creating a global network of plant banks to store seeds and sprouts, precious genetic resources that may be needed for man to adapt the world’s food supply to climate change.

This week, the flagship of that effort, the Global Seed Vault near here, received its first seeds, millions of them. Bored into the middle of a frozen Arctic mountain topped with snow, the vault’s goal is to store and protect samples of every type of seed from every seed collection in the world.

As of Thursday, thousands of neatly stacked and labeled gray boxes of seeds — peas from Nigeria, corn from Mexico — reside in this glazed cavelike structure, forming a sort of backup hard drive, in case natural disasters or human errors erase the seeds from the outside world.

Descending almost 500 feet under the permafrost, the entrance tunnel to the seed vault is designed to withstand bomb blasts and earthquakes. An automated digital monitoring system controls temperature and provides security akin to a missile silo or Fort Knox. No one person has all the codes for entrance.

The Global Vault is part of a broader effort to gather and systematize information about plants and their genes, which climate change experts say may indeed prove more valuable than gold. In Leuven, Belgium, scientists are scouring the world for banana samples and preserving their shoots in liquid nitrogen before they become extinct. A similar effort is under way in France on coffee plants. A number of plants, most from the tropics, do not produce seeds that can be stored.

For years, a hodgepodge network of seed banks has been amassing seed and shoot collections in a haphazard manner. Labs in Mexico banked corn species. Those in Nigeria banked cassava. Now these scattershot efforts are being urgently consolidated and systematized, in part because of better technology to preserve plant genes and in part because of the rising alarm about climate change and its impact on world food production.

“We started thinking about this post-9/11 and on the heels of Hurricane Katrina,” said Cary Fowler, president of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a nonprofit group that runs the vault. “Everyone was saying, why didn’t anyone prepare for a hurricane before? We knew it was going to happen.

“Well, we are losing biodiversity every day — it’s a kind of drip, drip, drip. It’s also inevitable. We need to do something about it.”

This week the urgency of the problem was underscored as wheat prices rose to record highs and wheat stores dropped to the lowest level in 35 years. A series of droughts and new diseases cut wheat production in many parts of the world. “The erosion of plants’ genetic resources is really going fast,” said Dr. Rony Swennen, head of the division of crop biotechnology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, who has preserved half of the world’s 1,200 banana types. “We’re at a critical moment and if we don’t act fast, we’re going to lose a lot of plants that we may need.”

The United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, ratified in 2004, created a formal global network for banking and sharing seeds, as well as for studying their genetic traits. Last year, its database received thousands of new seeds.

A system of plant banks could be crucial in responding to climate crises since it could identify genetic material and plant strains better able to cope with a changed environment.

Here at the Global Vault, hundreds of gray boxes containing seeds from places ranging from Syria to Mexico were moved this week into a freezing vault to be placed in suspended animation. They harbor a vast range of qualities, like the ability to withstand drier, warmer climate.

Climate change is expected to bring new weather stresses, as well as new plant pests into agricultural regions. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions will produce not just global warming but an increase in extreme weather events, like floods and droughts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded.

Already three-quarters of biodiversity in crops has been lost in the last century, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Eighty percent of maize types that existed in the 1930s are gone, for example. In the United States, 94 percent of peas are no longer grown.

Seed banks have operated for decades, but many are based in agricultural areas and few are as high-tech or secure as the Global Seed Vault. They have often been regarded as resources for hobbyists, scientists, farmers and others rather than as a tool for human survival.

Their importance and vulnerability have become apparent in recent years. Seed banks in Afghanistan and Iraq were destroyed during conflicts in those nations, by looters who were after the plastic containers that held the seeds. In the Philippines, a typhoon bore through the wall of a seed bank, destroying numerous samples.

In reviewing seed bank policies a few years ago, experts looked at the banks in a new light, Dr. Fowler said: “We said, we may have some of the best seed banks in the world, but look at where they are: Peru, Colombia, Syria, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines. So a lot of us were asking, what’s plan B?”

The goal of the new global plant banking system is to protect the precious stored plant genes from the vagaries of climate, politics and human error. Many banks are now “in countries where the political situation is not stable, and it is difficult to rely on refrigeration,” Dr. Swennen said. Seeds must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, that is, well below freezing, and plants that rely on cryopreservation must be far colder.

“We are inside a mountain in the Arctic because we wanted a really, really safe place that operates by itself,” Dr. Fowler said. Underground near Longyearbyen, just 600 miles from the North Pole, the seeds will stay frozen despite power failures. The Global Crop Diversity trust is also financing research into methods for storing genetic material from plants like bananas and coconuts that cannot be stored as seed.

The vault was built by Norway, and its operations are financed by government and private donations, including $20 million from Britain, $12 million from Australia, $11 million from Germany and $6.5 million from the United States. The effort to preserve a wide variety of plant genes in banks is particularly urgent because many farms now grow just one or two crops, with very high efficiency. Like purebred dogs perfectly tailored to their task, they are particularly vulnerable to both pests and climate change.

Scientists are also working to learn more about the skills encoded in the genes of each banked seed — crucial knowledge that is often not recorded. Ultimately, plant breeders will be able to consult a global database to find seeds with genes suitable for the particular climate challenge confronting a region — for instance, a corn with a stalk that resists storm winds or a wheat that needs less frequent water.

Just at a time when it is important to preserve biodiversity, economics encourages farmers to drop crops. But those seeds may contain traits that will prove advantageous in another place or another time. Scientists at Cornell University recently borrowed a gene from a South American potato to make potatoes that resisted the late blight fungus, a devastating disease that caused the Irish potato famine.

“You need a system to conserve the variety so it doesn’t go extinct,” Dr. Fowler said. “A farmer may make a bowl of porridge with the last seeds of a strain that is of no use to him, and then it’s gone. And potentially those are exactly the genes we will need a decade later.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 in 100 Americans in prison - pathetic

are we safer now? Moishe doubts it.

U.S. Spent More Than $49 Billion On Corrections In 2007

NEW YORK (CBS/AP) ― Don't ask the U.S. prison system if this is indeed "the land of the free."

For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in inmate population.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 -- one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world.

By contrast, in mid 2002 the ratio was 1 in 142, with the prison population surpassing 2 million for the first time.

The steadily growing inmate population "is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime," said the report.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes are prompting officials in many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing soft in crime.

"We're seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets," she said in an interview. "They want to be tough on crime, they want to be a law-and-order state -- but they also want to save money, and they want to be effective."

The report cited Kansas and Texas as states which have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. Their actions include greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than reimprisonment for ex-offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.

"The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens," the report said.

While many state governments have shown bipartisan interest in curbing prison growth, there also are persistent calls to proceed cautiously.

"We need to be smarter," said David Muhlhausen, a criminal justice expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "We're not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes -- but we're also probably incarcerating people who don't need to be."

According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.

The largest percentage increase -- 12 percent -- was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state's crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state's inmate population has increased by 600 percent.

The Pew report was compiled by the Center on the State's Public Safety Performance Project, which is working directly with 13 states on developing programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.

"For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and convincing return for public safety," said the project's director, Adam Gelb. "More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers."

The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime or in the nation's overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as "three-strikes" laws, that result in longer prison stays.

"For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling," the report said. "While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine."

The nationwide figures, as of Jan. 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost 230 million American adults.

The report said the United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the rest of the Top 10.

Birdboy, yes you heard correctly

From The Sun

A BOY can reportedly only communicate by 'chirping' - after living his life in a virtual aviary.

According to reports from Russia, the 7-year-old 'bird boy' has spent his life in a flat filled with bird cages with a mum who treated him like one of her pets.

Pravda said the boy's 31-year-old mum did not talk him and treated him like a bird, forcing him to learn avian language.

Social worker Galina Volskaya said shocked authorities discovered the boy in a two-bedroom apartment with bird mess littering the floor.

Volskaya said: “When you start talking to him, he chirps."

And she added that the boy becomes frustrated at not being able to communicate and flaps his arms.

Pravda reported that authorities believe the boy is suffering from Mowgli syndrome, after the Jungle Book character who is raised by wild animals.

The boy has reportedly been released by authorities and put in a medical facility.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

We love sharks, enjoy these videos of sharks getting ill

Morty I know i have said it before, but this time I mean it, cash in your bar mitzvah bonds - 10 green start ups

From Venture Beat
Every year, the Cleantech Forum sweeps into San Francisco, an industry event including banks, corporations, startups and venture capitalists.

I got to check out some of the startups presenting at the event, and found it to be an interesting mix. Sometimes it feels like cleantech is just a monotone of the same ideas: The next new solar cell, wind turbine or electrical system that can (maybe) be cheaper and more efficient than the last generation. The ten companies below, however, run the gamut of creative tech, from air recycling and filtration, to electric bike rentals, to metal-based origami.

Here are the start-ups I saw, beginning with the most interesting and working down:

pvtsolar.JPGPVT Solar
Most people know that standard solar photovoltaic cells generally have a maximum efficiency of around 15 to 20 percent, but they don’t know what happens to the 80 percent of the energy the cells can’t capture. Simple answer: It turns into waste heat. PVT Solar simply lifts up the cells a bit over their base, creating a pocket of air that’s heated with the energy the cells lose. The air is then circulated through a heat engine to harvest the energy, or alternatively, piped into a household’s air or water heating system. Installing the system raises the cost for the solar units about 20 percent, but boosts the energy generated by 100 percent in any climate, according to the company, helping to reduce the time to break-even on the investment by 25 to 50 percent. Those numbers are pretty impressive, and make for an excellent counter-argument to the Berkeley professor who recently called solar PV an economic “loser”. PVT is just closing its first round of investment, but will open another round fairly soon.
Projected revenue, 2008: $2 million
Looking for: $4 million
Previously taken: $1 million (plus around $3 million for its first full round, when closed)

This one occasioned a dinner-time argument at my table. The question: Is there any chance of creating a short-distance commuter bike rental market within American cities, ala London and Paris? Intrago, to be sure, has some innovative ideas; aside from bikes, they rent out scooters and cars, and all of them are electric. (Although that also feels a bit like a jibe at the stereotype of the Fat American, unwilling to even pedal.) Personal keys and PIN numbers help keep track of who’s renting what, and included GPS units help balance the system out, so that the vehicles don’t all pile up in one location. But at the same time, I feel like it’s too early for mass bike-rental systems in American cities, and Zipcar has already provided a healthy injection of innovation to the car rental market. More promising is the campus market, which Intrago is wisely starting its business off in. The University of Washington and a corporate campus in the Bay Area have already signed up.
Projected revenue, 2008: $1.7 million
Looking for: $4.5 million
Previously taken: $1 million

Sorbent Technologies
This startup, which aims to suck the mercury out of the toxic gas emissions of coal-burning plants, received a boost a few days ago when courts ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must impose stricter mercury rules on coal plants. Sorbent Technologies installs new boilers for those plants, but also makes its own sorbent (also the name of the substance that captures mercury from the air), which is its real business plan — as long as coal is burned, the plants will need to buy more sorbent. Unlike competing companies, Sorbent Technologies can preserve fly ash for making concrete, and says that its proprietary sorbent mix is more effective than others.
Projected revenue, 2008: $10 million
Looking for: $1.5 - 2 million working capital, plus another $4 - 6 million in a round immediately afterward
Previously taken: $2 million

MicroPlanet is a great example of a simple but effective technology aimed at increasing electrical efficiency. The voltage of electricity delivered to a house or business from a utility can vary considerably from the optimum level used by appliances. MicroPlanet sells a product that varies depending on the size of the application and the location, but it always does the same thing: Changes all incoming electricity to the perfect voltage, thus reducing the amount of energy that escapes as waste heat. The company has tested its systems extensively, and found a 6 to 12 percent efficiency gain. It prices its units to pay for themselves within about three years.
Projected revenue, 2008: $5 million
Looking for: $12 million
Previously taken: $20 million

hybradrive.JPGHybra-Drive Systems
You’ve heard of electric hybrids, but have you head of a hydraulic hybrid? It’s a similar idea, but instead of storing energy in a battery, it’s tucked away into hydraulic cylinders. (And if that blows your mind, check out the air car.) Various companies including Ford are toying with hydraulic hybrids, but Hybra-Drive doesn’t have its eye on the consumer market. Instead, it wants to work with commercial applications like construction vehicles and trucks, and just won half a million in funding from the Army for its work in boosting a Humvee from 8 to 23 miles per gallon.
Projected revenue, 2010: $89 million
Looking for: $10 million
Previously taken: $1.6 million

origami.JPGIndustrial Origami
Origami is the art of paper folding. That’s a pretty accurate description of Industrial Origami’s business model, with one exception: They use aluminum and steel. The company can, by cutting a single contiguous shape from a flat sheet of metal, cleverly fold the resulting form into various objects, including cars and washing machines. The process saves anywhere from 20 to 70 percent of the manufacturing cost, reducing the amount of raw material needed, and cutting out the need to ship bulky consumer appliances in from far away places (instead, just ship in the shaped metal and fold it at a home factory). The idea is hardly unique, but the company has good execution, and it’s got 350 patents either approved or in the works to defend its methods.
Projected revenue, 2008: $3 million
Looking for: $10 million
Previously taken: $15 million

While other startups are considering various methods aimed at storing enough power to last for hours at a time for utility-scale solar and wind developments, including molten salt, compressed air and weighted arrangements, Pentadyne only wants to provide a power source more reliable and effective than batteries for a few seconds at a time. The company makes flywheels for sale to data centers, which need to have an interim supply that is capable of coming online immediately in case of a power outage, but just long enough for diesel generators to kick in. The company also makes “energy recycling” systems for mass transit — think regenerative braking for trains. Unlike some of the other companies presenting, Pentadyne already has substantial sales, and even more substantial funding.
Projected revenue, 2008: $18 million
Looking for: $15 - 25 million
Previously taken: $56 million

Like a number of other startups, Nanoexa is working on making the lithium-ion battery more efficient. It has a high-speed computational modeling tool that helps discover better and cheaper materials for use in the batteries and their parts, and also says it can exceed the performance of competing technologies by 20 percent. Problem is, like most battery startups, it requires a hell of a lot of capital to get off the ground, not to mention that it’s competing for the hand-tool and automotive markets with companies like A123, which have already raised heaps of funding. Only time will tell whether Nanoexa’s batteries are good enough to compete not only with existing next-gen technologies like A123, but also with ultra-capacitors, fuel cells, and a host of other upcoming battery innovations.
Projected revenue, 2008: $728,000
Looking for: $25 - 50 million
Previously taken: $2 million

somstech.JPGSOMS Technologies
SOMS makes a high efficiency engine oil filter that it claims can last for 30,000 miles of driving, about ten times the recommended range for standard filters. The cost-saving from the filter is two-fold, because vehicles also end up burning less oil when using a better filter. The company plans to start off selling to the commercial fleet market, and expects an acquisition in the future.
Projected revenue, 2008: $1 million
Looking for: $3 million
Previously taken: $900,000

Verilite (contact)
Verilite is a solar concentrator technology that uses flat mirrors to direct sunlight into a concentrator prism, which redirects the light to a bank of photovoltaic cells. “It’s so simple, we can’t fail!” said the company’s president as he wrapped up his presentation. While endearing, bubbly enthusiasm isn’t much of a substitute for hard details, so it’s difficult to tell just how successful this company could become.
Projected revenue, 2008: $0.5 - $1 million
Looking for: $3.5 million
Previously taken: $0.5 million

Private equity funds to banks - Go F&*k Youreself (wall street folly)

From Wall Street Folly:

Screw the banks. Blackstone thinks they don't need them. According to Blackstone President Hamilton James, they'll find their own sources of cash to fund their LBOs. That's gonna mean lower fees to Wall Street banks..

The firm is contacting hedge funds and mutual funds to provide loans for takeovers, James said after a panel discussion today at the Super Return conference in Munich. Other firms may follow New York-based Blackstone's lead, he added.

``We're bypassing the banks,'' James said. ``There's still ultimately demand for this paper out there if you can go directly to the buyers.''

The move may cut fees for Wall Street firms led by JPMorgan Chase & Co., which earned $412 million last year arranging loans for U.S. buyouts, more than twice its takeover advisory fees, according to data compiled by New York-based research firm Freeman & Co. and Thomson Financial. Banks are trying to cut a $230 billion backlog of debt they agreed to provide, making them less willing to back new buyouts.

``They found themselves holding the baby,'' Alchemy Partners LLP founder Jon Moulton said at the conference today. ``The banks aren't coming back for a while.''

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Urbanization: half world population to live in cities by end 2008 (reuters)

Megalopolis's Bitches

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - By the end of this year one half of the world's population will be living in cities for the first time in human history, the United Nations said in a new report released on Tuesday.

According to the report, by the year 2050 there will be 6.4 billion people living in cities, up from 3.3 billion at present. The world's total population is expected to rise to 9.2 billion in 2050 from the current figure of 6.7 billion.

As urbanization increases, the world's rural population is expected to begin declining in around a decade and should fall to 2.8 billion people in 2050 from 3.4 billion in 2007, the report said.

Some countries, like India -- home to two of the world's biggest metropolises, Mumbai and Delhi with 19 and 18.8 million people respectively in 2007 -- aim to slow down the process of urbanization by encouraging development of rural areas.

Despite the challenges urbanization poses for governments and local authorities, Hania Zlotnik, head of the U.N. Population Division, told reporters urbanization is generally a sign of a lively economy.

"Governments would be well advised that urban growth is a proof of economic dynamism," Zlotnik told reporters.

Still, intense urbanization and the expected addition of eight new "megacities" -- cities with 10 million or more inhabitants -- by the year 2025 will pose new challenges.

Governments need to make sure large urban populations have access to basic services, above all health care, Zlotnik said.

Asia and Africa are still mostly rural but will see booming urban populations over the next few decades. Both have around 40 percent in cities and 60 percent in the countryside now.

But this is steadily changing. Half of Africa's population will be in cities by between 2045 and 2050 while Asia will reach that point between 2020 and 2025, Zlotnik said.


Around 40 percent of China's population is in cities now, a figure that is expected to exceed 70 percent by 2050, when over 1 billion people will be living in Chinese cities, she said.

By 2025, China's booming foreign investment center Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, will join Beijing and Shanghai as China's third megacity with 10.2 million people, the U.N. report projected.

The world's second most populous country, India, has only 29 percent of its population in cities at the moment. By 2050, India will have 55 percent of its people in urban centers.

"India is expected to urbanize much less than China and therefore it's expected to remain the country with the world's largest rural population," Zlotnik said.

But India will get two new megacities to join Mumbai and Delhi by 2025 -- Calcutta, which will have an estimated 20.6 million people, and Madras with 10.1 million.

Europe will continue to lag well behind the urbanization seen elsewhere, the U.N. report said. Of the 19 megacities today, the only European metropolises are Moscow and Istanbul.

By 2025 there will be 27 megacities and Europe will add only one more to the list -- Paris. It will have an estimated 10 million people, making it number 27 on the list.

Tokyo is projected to remain the most populous city in the world. With 35.7 million people in its urban agglomeration at last count, this should rise to 36.4 million by 2025, it said.

Africa currently has only one megacity -- Egypt's capital Cairo. Joining the ranks of megacities by 2025 will be Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lagos, Nigeria.

Ways to improve passenger rail travel in US (wired)

From Wired

It's stunning to see how fast trains travel in European countries, not the ICE, the TGV, or the AVE, but the normal intercity trains. Currently, a trip on an intercity Corail train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne is an hour faster than by car. The 420 km trip can be done in three hours, an average speed of 140 km/hour, or roughly 86 mph. In the United States, the Acela Express, supposedly what Amtrak calls "high speed rail" only averages 72 mph for its entire length from Boston to Washington, DC. Speeding up the conventional rail system has become popular on routes where funds are not yet available to build a full scale, state-of-the-art high speed rail line. Europe and Asia are models for the United States, where normal trains can travel faster than cars. Here are six steps on improving America's rail system.

The photo shows a Corail train at Paris Nord. Corail rail cars can travel up to 125 mph. Photo user by Fickr user thecsman.

Step 1:
Eliminate redundant stops and introduce skip stop trains. Referring once again to the Clermont Ferrand-Paris line, a local train will take four hours, skip-stop trains usually take three. One effective implementation plan that many of the world's rail systems has used is to have trains run local to a certain transfer point and then run express to the final destination. A second train would run express to the same transfer point and then run local for the rest of the journey. Having a timed transfer will allow passengers to travel quickly between the two extremities of the line, but trains still provide service for all stations.
Price: Cheap to reduce stops, more expensive to add trains.

Step 2:
Implement reserved seating plan. In 2003, the SNCF introduced the Corail Téoz, a new form of a conventional intercity train where reserved seating is required (the train's interiors also changed). Reserved seats mean that passengers can align themselves on the platform to board, instead of crowding around certain sections of the train. Trains should stop for no more than three minutes in a station.
Price: Cheap, but organization is key.

Step 3:
Eliminate grade level crossings and/or upgrade tracks (and overhead wires) to accommodate faster trains. Trains traveling at 85 mph will be sufficient and will provide a savings over the highway. China has upgraded tracks on several major corridors to allow trains to attain speeds up to 200 km/h. Eliminating ground level crossings with overpasses and underpasses will allow trains to travel at faster speeds, as potential contact with cars would be reduced.
Price: Expensive, but if the track needs replacement, then why not upgrade the tracks and wires at the same time?

Step 4:
Use lighter, swifter trains. Most of the regular intercity rail cars in Europe have maximum speeds ranging from 160 to 200 km/h (100 mph to 124 mph). Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Regional trains use rail cars that weigh 116,000 pounds each, while many European train cars weigh 42 metric tons, or about 92,500 pounds. A lighter train will provide faster accelerations and a greater energy efficiency.
Price: Expensive. Amtrak's Amfleet cars are getting old, but there is no mention in replacements yet.

Step 5:
Advertise about the faster service. Prove to the public that the train can travel faster than cars and that there are no hassles with airport security lines or check-ins. Promote special prices and deals. Amtrak needs to regain the confidence of the Americans before attracting riders.
Price: Depends on the advertising method.

Step 6:
Designate important, heavily used corridors for high speed rail system. Build a dedicated trackway for only high speed trains. There should be no grade level crossings, sharp turns, or steep climbs. Connecting the high speed rail tracks to the current network will allow bullet trains to continue on local tracks to serve more destinations. ICE lines tend to branch off the main high speed line, slow down, and then stop at smaller cities. TGV also continues journeys on local tracks to provide direct service to and from Paris. Spain, however, does not have the option to run AVE trains on local tracks since the track gauges are different.
Price: Extremely expensive with attaining right of ways, constructing elevated and tunneled structures, buying new vehicles and building new stations.

Funny, but True

I know this is ruining Moishe's chances of appearing on Kudlow and Co., but c'mon! From The Big Picture.

The Modern Kudlow To Standard English Translation Guide
Kudlowism : Modern Translation
“The Greatest Story Never Told”:
Early stages of a normal economic expansion.
"Goldilocks Economy":
Latter stages of expansion; cracks
in the façade are beginning to show.
“A possibility of Recession exists”:
The recession has already begun.
“A Mild Recession”: We are in a broad and deep recession.
“We are in a serious recession”: Stock up on canned food, bottled water and handgun ammo.
“I don’t see how this can get any worse”: BUY!

Censorship or Coincidence?

From NY Times

A television station in Huntsville, Ala., offered viewers nothing but a black screen for 12 minutes Sunday night — at the exact time that the CBS News program “60 Minutes” was broadcasting a report about potential political skulduggery involving the former Bush administration official Karl Rove in the conviction of a former Democratic governor of the state.

The interruption raised suspicions among some viewers, especially Democratic backers of Don Siegelman, the former governor, that partisan political interests might be behind the blackout.

Even some CBS executives wondered initially about the reasons for the disruption, though the general manager of the station, WHNT-TV, denied any ulterior motives, and immediately offered the report in its entirety on the station’s newscasts Sunday and Monday nights, as well as on its Web site.

“We know what our license means to us,” said Stan Pylant, the chief executive at the station. “There were no political motives in this.”

Mr. Pylant blamed a signal receiver. “The receiver failed to pick up the video from CBS,” he said. The station had no problems picking up CBS for the half-hour before “60 Minutes” started. The network’s Sunday evening news was on. But Mr. Pylant said that as he watched at home he saw the signal break off just as “60 Minutes” started.

“I really hoped the Siegelman report would be the third one they aired,” he said. It was not. It was first. WHNT had promoted the report all week because of the obvious interest in Huntsville.

The report quoted political figures from both parties questioning the bribery conviction of Mr. Siegelman and specifically included a charge from a “Republican operative” in the state who said Mr. Rove had urged her to try to get compromising pictures of Mr. Siegelman.

The station is part of a group formerly owned by The New York Times Company, purchased last year by an investment company, Oak Hill Capital Partners. That firm is managed by Robert M. Bass, one of a group of wealthy brothers who have all been major contributors to George W. Bush.

The investment company does not manage the stations, however. That is done by a separate company, Local TV L.L.C. That company’s chief executive, Bobby Lawrence, has also been a substantial contributor to Republican political candidates, including Mr. Bush.

Mr. Pylant said no one in either company had said or done anything “to sabotage our signal.” He pointed out that Oak Hill owns and Local TV manages three other CBS stations — though not in Alabama — and nothing had gone wrong with “60 Minutes” at any of those stations.

“This was just a G.M.’s worst nightmare,” he said. “But we’re replaying it. We have had a crawl up telling people where they can see it.” He added, “Believe me, I can get higher ratings than by going to a black screen.”

Longtime No Music Post

Here is a great mp3 mix from Bending Corners, for fans of that 70's cosmic jazz sound heavy on the Fender Rhodes. Check the play list:

1. Alphonso Johnson - Pandora's Box
(from: "Moonshadows" 1975)
2. Pete Jolly - Plummer Park
(from: "Seasons" 1970)
3. Olli Ahvenlahti - Breeze
(from: "Bandstand" 1975)
4. Harold Alexander - Quick City Revisited
(from: "Are You Ready" 1972)
5. O'Donel Levy - Sierra Lonely
(from: "Simba" 1973)
6. Hysear Don Walker - Children of the Night
(from: "Complete Experssions Vol. 2" 1972)
7. Bernie Senensky Trio - Beloved Gift
(from: "Ready or Not 2" (comp) - recorded 1975)
8. Leroy Vinnegar - Doin' That Thing
(from: "The Kid" 1974)
9. Second Direction - Peace
(from: "Four Corners" 1976)
10. Weldon Irvine - The Power and The Glory
(from: "Spirit Man" 1975)
11. Cannonball Adderley - 74 Miles Away
(from: "Phenix" 1975)
12. Nat Adderley - Electric Eel
(from: "You, Baby" 1968)
13. Ramon Morris - Lord Sideways
(from: "Sweet Sister Funk" 1973)
14. Norman Connors - Carlos II
(from: "Love From The Sun" 1973)
And check out some past music posts that Morty and Moishe Recommend...

The Divine Lorraine

Wikipedia entry here.

Next time you see a house you must own

From Springwise

Aiming to invigorate a stagnating housing market, Dutch ING Bank is helping potential buyers bid on houses that aren't yet for sale.

The bank's WoonWaarUWilt ("LiveWhereYouWant") initiative, which launched yesterday, lets clients make an offer on the house they'd love to own. ING is partnering with online real estate firm iBlue. After potential buyers fill in a form on, including their dream home's address and the initial offer they're willing to make, iBlue contacts them to discuss whether the offer is reasonable, and adjusts it if necessary. A mortgage consultant also determines whether the buyers would be able to finance the purchase.

iBlue then sends a preliminary offer to the property's current owners, explaining the situation and inquiring whether they'd consider selling. As with other 'Intention Economy' real estate ventures we've covered before (in Finland and elsewhere), the reasoning is that many homeowners aren't actively interested in selling, but can be persuaded to do so if the right offer comes along. By declaring their intention and backing it up with a lender’s financial approval, buyers can help eliminate the uncertainty associated with putting a house on the market. Meanwhile, the concept is a smart way for ING to get a head start on other banks when it comes to financing the transaction.

Making an offer is free for clients, but if the owners are interested in pursuing the offer, iBlue acts as the buyer's agent and charges a commission once the deal is done. The Intention Economy was first described by Doc Searls as follows: “The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don't need advertising to make them.” Which offers exciting opportunities for businesses who are willing to shift from marketing to buyers, to facilitating their intentions.


Let's Hope for Last Gasp

From the NY Times.

Memo From Belgrade
Serbian Rage in Kosovo: Last Gasp or First Breath? BELGRADE, Serbia — Nationalist hooligans may have been behind the burning of the United States Embassy here, but the feelings of anger, sorrow and betrayal over the loss of Kosovo cut across all segments of Serbian society.he world is waiting to see whether the riots on Thursday were the final spasm of anger in Serbia or the first tremor in a new Balkan earthquake. The deep-seated disappointment of even the most staunchly pro-Western Serbs suggests that there will be no easy reconciliation in the wake of the declaration of independence by Kosovo’s overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority.

Jasmina Petkovic, 31, is the kind of young Serb that European Union leaders are counting on to lead the country back into the Western fold. She favors rapid entry into the European Union for her country and was actively engaged for years in the demonstrations against Slobodan Milosevic, marching in the cold and choking on tear gas to help rid the country of its dictator.

As an organizer of arts events at the Belgrade Cultural Center, Ms. Petkovic works with foreign artists. She has an Italian boyfriend.

“If you were here on Sunday,” Ms. Petkovic told a foreign reporter over the weekend, referring to the day of Kosovo’s independence declaration a week earlier, “I would be spitting on America, cursing Europeans, saying, ‘You are stealing our territory, just because you are bigger and you can do it.’ ” The depth of her sadness and anger surprised even her, she said.

Yet on Thursday night, when she heard the breaking glass and caught the all-too-familiar scent of tear gas in her nearby apartment during the embassy attack, all she felt was disappointment and shame at the violent actions of her countrymen. “You always think this is the worst thing possible and it isn’t true,” she said in excellent English. “It’s always getting worse.”

The meaning of the Kosovo Province to Serbs is neatly encapsulated in phrases like “ancestral heartland” that do little to capture its depth and centrality as a symbol of national pride. The declaration was akin to foreign powers forcing the United States to give up the Alamo, only worse.

Supporters of Kosovo’s independence argue that Mr. Milosevic’s brutal subjugation of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo forsook Serbia’s moral and legal claim to rule the territory...

Military using social networking, clever

From Roughtype

February 25, 2008

Call it Gruntbook. As part of its long-term effort to pioneer "network-centric warfare," the US military has rolled out a social networking system for soldiers in Iraq. Called the Tactical Ground Reporting System, or TIGR, the system was developed by DARPA, the same Defense Department agency that spearheaded the creation of the internet forty years ago. As described by David Talbot in an article in Technology Review, the system is built around detailed maps of the routes of army patrols. Patrol leaders can add photographs, videos, audio recordings and notes to the maps, building a shared intelligence database from the ground up:

By clicking on icons and lists, [patrol leaders] can see the locations of key buildings, like mosques, schools, and hospitals, and retrieve information such as location data on past attacks, geotagged photos of houses and other buildings (taken with cameras equipped with Global Positioning System technology), and photos of suspected insurgents and neighborhood leaders. They can even listen to civilian interviews and watch videos of past maneuvers. It is just the kind of information that soldiers need to learn about Iraq and its perils.

Talbot says that the system, an amalgam of fairly routine Web 2.0 technologies, is for some units "becoming the technological fulcrum of the counterinsurgency." Right now, soldiers can tap into the system only when they're at their bases, before or after a patrol. But the military is planning

to install it in Humvees and other military vehicles, allowing soldiers to download and act on new information in real time. Some of these vehicles already have some low-bandwidth connections, and [a spokesman] says DARPA is working on ways to make the software work using these thin pipes. In addition, the system may soon deliver new kinds of information. In the next two to three years, it could offer surveillance pictures from circling unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or other sensor systems. It could store biometric information, so that a soldier could see if a civilian being interviewed was a known insurgent suspect.

One thing that Talbot doesn't mention in his otherwise excellent article is the fact that cheap, simple web-based systems are also easily available to insurgent and guerrilla forces. It's clear, for example, that insurgents are already using online mapping tools, like Google Earth, to target attacks and missiles, and other web-based social-networking and data-management tools are well-suited to the kind of real-time information sharing that armies can use to plan and coordinate their actions. Because they're cheap and easy to deploy - and in many cases freely available over the web - the tools of what might be called social warmaking represent a two-edged sword for large, modern armies. They can provide a powerful new way to share tactical information, but they also tend to level the battlefield.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Shark Attack!!!

MIAMI (AP) - A diver has died after being bitten by a shark off the coast of Florida.

The Coast Guard says the man died Monday at a hospital in Miami.

A Coast Guard statement said the victim was attacked while he was diving off a commercial boat about 50 miles east of Fort Lauderdale.

The shark involved in Sunday's attack got away before anyone could identify the species.

Coast Guard officials said the man was 50 years old but they did not give his identity.

Iraq Just Like Korea? Oh Word?

I was having a debate just the other day with Moishe about whether the Korean or Iraqi version of kimchi was better. From ABC.

John McCain, R-Ariz., Monday continued a subtle but consistent effort to walk back a comment about the Iraq war he made in January when he said the US would keep troops in Iraq for 100 years to help provide stability if it was needed.

The comment has dogged the all-but-official nominee of the Republican party for weeks.

Democrats jumped on McCain's remarks to paint him as a war monger; McCain has since tried to clarify his language.

At a Monday town hall meeting outside of Cleveland, McCain, referenced the rhetoric -- unprompted --after being asked about what specific progress he was looking for in Iraq."By the way that reminds me of this 100 year thing," McCain told the 800-plus crowd. He went on to characterize the conversation he had in Salem as a "back and forth" over the war and how long American troops would be there.

Then McCain took a step he hasn't before.

"My friends, the war will be over soon..." McCain told the crowd. "The insurgency will go on for years and years and years. But it will be handled by the Iraqis, not by us."

"And then we decide what kind of security arrangement we want to have with the Iraqis."

This, McCain has indicated, was what he was referring to in January when he said that troops could be in Iraq for 100 years.

"In Korea we've had, as you know, ever since the Korean War, we've had a military presence in South Korea. So my Democrat friends like to distort that comment."

An Early Contender for Understatement of the Year

Via Philebrity.

HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell said his statement earlier this month that some Pennsylvanians would not vote for a black candidate shows why he would be a "terrible liability" as a vice presidential candidate.

Rendell, a supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, reiterated Saturday that he had no interest in being a running mate. "I think I proved a couple weeks ago why nobody would want me as vice presidential nominee," Rendell said in an interview with the Patriot-News and Politico for C-Span's Newsmakers. "I have a terrible liability." He also ruled out leaving office to become a White House cabinet member until his term is up in 2011.

Rendell was criticized after saying in an interview this month that some white Pennsylvanians were likely to vote against Clinton's rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.), because he is black. - AP

Big Award For a Favorite Site of Morty

Internets taking over, son. From the NY Times.

Of the many landmarks along a journalist’s career, two are among those that stand out: winning an award and making the government back down. Last week, Joshua Micah Marshall achieved both.

The Manhattan newsroom of Talking Points Memo is modest compared with conventional news operations. Much of its resources come from its readers.n Tuesday, it was announced that he had won a George Polk Award for legal reporting for coverage of the firing of eight United States attorneys, critics charged under political circumstances. The “tenacious investigative reporting sparked interest by the traditional news media and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales,” the citation read.

Also last week, the Justice Department put him back on its mailing list for reporters with credentials after removing him last year.

Mr. Marshall does not belong to any traditional news organization. Instead, he is creating his own. His Web site, Talking Points Memo (, is the first Internet-only news operation to receive the Polk (though in 2003, an award for Internet reporting was given to the Center for Public Integrity), and certainly one of the most influential political blogs in the country...

Moishe likes angles, "Free" Business Model = Good Angle

From Wired

At the age of 40, King Gillette was a frustrated inventor, a bitter anticapitalist, and a salesman of cork-lined bottle caps. It was 1895, and despite ideas, energy, and wealthy parents, he had little to show for his work. He blamed the evils of market competition. Indeed, the previous year he had published a book, The Human Drift, which argued that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public and that millions of Americans should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. His boss at the bottle cap company, meanwhile, had just one piece of advice: Invent something people use and throw away....

Read entire article

These are the main points being debated between Obama and Cilnton? scary

From Drudge Report

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe accused the Clinton campaign Monday of "shameful offensive fear-mongering" by circulating a photo as an attempted smear.

Plouffe was reacting to a banner headline on the Drudge Report saying that aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had e-mailed a photo calling attention to the African roots of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

"The photo, taken in 2006, shows the Democrat front-runner dressed as a Somali Elder, during his visit to Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya," the Drudge Report said. The photo created huge buzz in political circles and immediately became known as "the 'dressed' photo," reflecting the Drudge terminology.

combine this with the Clinton camp claiming Obama stole words from others for his speeches and we have some "Serious" political discourse. shameful shit says Moishe that this is what is being debated.

Ain't It The truth

From Mickipedia.

Grain of Salt

From Bloomberg.

Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Barton Biggs, co-founder of hedge fund Traxis Partners LLC, said he's ``gradually increasing'' his holdings of U.S. equities because he doesn't expect a recession and shares are ``very, very cheap.''

Biggs, the former global investment strategist for Morgan Stanley, said in a Bloomberg Television interview that the market is ``at or very close to an important bottom'' and may be led higher by banks and brokerages when a rally occurs. Some financial companies may advance 20 percent to 25 percent over periods of two to three weeks, said Biggs, who helps manage $1.5 billion in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 6.1 percent in January, its biggest monthly decline since September 2002 and its worst start to a year since 1990. During the month the index fell as much as 16 percent from its Oct. 9 record.

Financial companies in the index fell almost 21 percent in 2007, the worst performance among 10 industry groups and their biggest drop since 1990. They trade for 14.8 times profits, compared with an average price-earnings ratio of 15.5 this decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The S&P 500 trades for 18.1 times earnings, 31 percent below its monthly average this decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Biggs correctly forecast U.S. equities would rebound from declines in March and August last year. On March 16, following a 5 percent decline by the S&P 500 from its Feb. 20 peak, he said stocks were approaching a bottom and predicted a gain of as much as 15 percent for the index in 2007.

The S&P 500 rose as much as 12 percent from that level before retreating to end the year with a 3.5 percent gain.

On Aug. 16, after a 9 percent decline by the index, Biggs said it was bottoming and predicted a rebound. The benchmark rose almost 11 percent over the next seven weeks.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Honestly doesn't seem like a big scandal here, but McCain is falling apart a bit

From Newsweek.

A sworn deposition that Sen. John McCain gave in a lawsuit more than five years ago appears to contradict one part of a sweeping denial that his campaign issued this week to rebut a New York Times story about his ties to a Washington lobbyist.

On Wednesday night the Times published a story suggesting that McCain might have done legislative favors for the clients of the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who worked for the firm of Alcalde & Fay. One example it cited were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 demanding that the Federal Communications Commission act on a long-stalled bid by one of Iseman's clients, Florida-based Paxson Communications, to purchase a Pittsburgh television station.

Just hours after the Times's story was posted, the McCain campaign issued a point-by-point response that depicted the letters as routine correspondence handled by his staff—and insisted that McCain had never even spoken with anybody from Paxson or Alcalde & Fay about the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC," the campaign said a statement e-mailed to reporters.

But that flat claim seems to be contradicted by an impeccable source: McCain himself. "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue," McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. "He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

While McCain said "I don't recall" if he ever directly spoke to the firm's lobbyist about the issue—an apparent reference to Iseman, though she is not named—"I'm sure I spoke to [Paxson]." McCain agreed that his letters on behalf of Paxson, a campaign contributor, could "possibly be an appearance of corruption"—even though McCain denied doing anything improper.

McCain's subsequent letters to the FCC—coming around the same time that Paxson's firm was flying the senator to campaign events aboard its corporate jet and contributing $20,000 to his campaign—first surfaced as an issue during his unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid. William Kennard, the FCC chair at the time, described the sharply worded letters from McCain, then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, as "highly unusual."

Great scene from a great movie

Would you say I have a plethora of bulls?

A rancher in Spain plans to have his most prized bull cloned by a US firm in what will be a first in the history of Spanish bullfighting, El Pais reported Friday.
Victoriano del Rio will have 16-year-old Alcalde, the father of some of the biggest and fiercest bulls killed in Spanish bullrings in recent years, cloned by Viagen in the next few weeks, the daily said.

"Alcalde is unique, he's priceless and we wouldn't sell him for all the gold in the world," Victoriano's son Ricardo del Rio told the newspaper at the family's ranch at Guadalix de la Sierra, outside Madrid.

A clone of Alcalde is expected in March 2009.

Texas-based Viagen says it has successfully cloned at least 300 other animals, many of them prize bulls used in rodeos in the United States.

"We're preserving and multiplying animals that have shown themselves to be genetically superior and that justifies the investment," Viagen's director for Latin America and Spain, Jose Cordoba, told the newspaper.

Cloning a bull costs some 12,000 euros (17,500 dollars) compared to the 150,000 dollars it costs to clone a horse due to the greater complexity involved.

At least two other Spanish ranchers with prized studs are also considering cloning, as are two breeders of the purebred Portuguese horses used for mounted bullfights, he added.

The Phillies' Cheap Azz Costs Them Big Dollars

From ESPN.

...The Phillies -- and the folks at MLB who "advise" clubs on salary-arbitration filings -- thought they were going to nail this case because no player with two-plus years' service time had ever made anywhere close to $10 million.

Matter of fact, Howard was asking for more than twice the $4.5-million salary the previous record-holder, Justin Morneau, had earned in this service class.

So by comparison to Morneau, the Phillies' offer of $7 million actually might have seemed generous. Not by coincidence, that offer happened to be exactly as much as Albert Pujols collected in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2004.

The problem was, the arbitrators didn't buy the comparisons to either Morneau or Pujols. Turned out, the guy they were looking at was Miguel Cabrera.

Apparently, the panel tossed Pujols out of the argument because his salary wasn't determined by the arbitration process. It was the first year of his long-term, seven-year, $100-million contract.

And the arbitrators ostensibly decided Morneau wasn't a comparable enough player because Howard has outproduced not just Morneau, but just about everyone else in the sport since he arrived in the big leagues.

So that left Cabrera. And it appears the panel couldn't justify giving Howard less than the $7.4 million Cabrera cashed when he won his arbitration case against the Marlins last year.

"I really think that if the Phillies had filed above Cabrera's number, that would have made a major difference," said one baseball man familiar with the case. "At least at that number, even if he'd lost, the arbitrators could have said it's the largest award ever."

Bill Gates - "Keyboards Suck," Moishe agrees

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- People will increasingly interact with computers using speech or touch screens rather than keyboards, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said.
"It's one of the big bets we're making," he said during the final stop of a farewell tour before he withdraws from the company's daily operations in July.

In five years, Microsoft expects more Internet searches to be done through speech than through typing on a keyboard, Gates told about 1,200 students and faculty members Thursday at Carnegie Mellon University.

Gates also said the software that is proliferating in various branches of science, including biology and astronomy must become even more advanced.

"They're dealing with so much information that ... the need for machine learning to figure out what's going on with that data is absolutely essential," he said.

Microsoft is trying to establish ties not only with university computer science departments but also with reseachers in other scientific areas "to help us understand where new inventions are necessary," Gates said.

Gates plans to retire as Microsoft's chief software architect in July and focus on philanthropy.

George Bush Dancing - this is real and really good

More Background on the McCain Story - Light on the Lady Friend References

Talking Points Memo kills these type of stories.

It still remains to be seen whether yesterday's New York Times piece will be the last word on John McCain's relationship with Vicki Iseman. For now, the Times quoted anonymous aides saying that they'd suspected there was an affair ongoing; McCain denies that there was.

But remember that the Times piece ran under the memorably lame headline, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk." There's a broader point there. Set aside the issue of the nature of his relationship with Iseman, and you have the undeniable conflict of McCain, the chest-beating reformer, being so undeniably close to lobbyists. That, many have pointed out, is the real story. The man who's absurdly proclaimed that "I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to" is surrounded by lobbyists.

And The Washington Post, a day after it ran its own Iseman story on page one, goes with that story on today's front page under the concise headline, "The Anti-Lobbyist, Advised by Lobbyists."

The story involves quite a roll call:

-- "His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications."

-- "His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways."

-- "Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae."

-- "McCain recently hired Mark Buse to be his Senate chief of staff. Buse led the Commerce Committee staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was until last fall a lobbyist for ML Strategies, representing eBay, Goldman Sachs Group, Cablevision, Tenneco and Novartis Pharmaceuticals."

-- "McCain's top fundraising official is former congressman Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), who heads a lobbying law firm called the Loeffler Group. He has counseled the Saudis as well as Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Toyota and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America."

McCain, of course, insists that he's incorruptible. During yesterday's press conference, he proclaimed “I’ve never done any favors for anybody — lobbyist or special interest group — that’s a clear, 24-year record.” Maybe he just keeps all those lobbyists around to test his fortitude.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Drunk Moron

Space Wars - mission successful

From Space War

The US Defense Department said late Wednesday it had successfully used a ship-board missile to shoot down an out-of-control spy satellite before it plummeted to Earth.

"At approximately 10:26 pm today (0326 GMT Thursday), a US Navy Aegis warship, the USS Lake Erie, fired a single modified tactical standard missile 3, hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometers (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean as it travelled in space more than 17,000 miles (44,000 kilometers) per hour," the Defense Department said in a statement.

Analysis of the McCain Lady Friend Story

From Talking points Memo.

This is an odd story for a couple reasons. We know that the McCain Camp went to the mattresses to get this story spiked back in December. And some heavy legal muscle was apparently brought to bear. When a story has to go through that much lawyering it often comes out pretty stilted and with some obvious lacunae. And this one definitely qualifies. Reading the Times piece it struck me as a bit of a jumble. The reference to a possible affair is there in the lede. But then most of the piece is a rehash of a lot of older material about McCain's record before getting back to the relationship with Iseman.

In terms of a relationship between the two, the Times piece seems quite hedged. According to two staffers, staffers became concerned there was a romantic relationship. They took steps to protect McCain from himself. According to the Times sources, after being confronted by staffers, McCain "acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. Iseman."
At the moment it seems to me that we have a story from the Times that reads like it's had most of the meat lawyered out of it. And a lot of miscellany and fluff has been packed in where the meat was. Still, if the Times sources are to be believed, the staff thought he was having an affair with Iseman and when confronted about it he in so many words conceded that he was (much of course hangs on 'behaving inappropriately' but then, doesn't it always?) and promised to shape up. And whatever the personal relationship it was a stem wound about a lobbying branch.

I find it very difficult to believe that the Times would have put their chin so far out on this story if they didn't know a lot more than they felt they could put in the article, at least on the first go. But in a decade of doing this, I've learned not to give any benefits of the doubt, even to the most esteemed institutions.

Equally telling, though, is the McCain camp's response and their clear unwillingness to address or deny any the key charges of the piece. (Read the statement closely. It's all bluster.) When it comes to sex stories even falsely accused politicians have some reluctance to get into nitty gritty denials. But McCain -- or rather McCain's communications office since it's in their name not his -- doesn't even address it.

That tells you something. So too does the Post's decision to jump in very quickly. Charles Kaiser, at Radar, gives some of the backstory on the other publications that were in the hunt and why the Times may have pulled the trigger when they did. Apparently some others were about to jump in too.

Reading all of this stuff I have the distinct feeling that only a few pieces of the puzzle are now on the table. Given unspoken understandings of many years' duration, a lot of reporters and DC types can probably imagine what the full picture looks like. But we're going to need a few more pieces before the rest of us can get a sense of what this is all about.

--Josh Marshall

This will make it harder to do dirt, sorry Morty

From Flight Global

Police in Miami, Florida want to find out whether a small unmanned air vehicle able to hover and stare can help law enforcement in urban areas.

To that end, Miami-Dade Police Department plans a four- to six-month evaluation of Honeywell's ducted-fan Micro Air Vehicle (MAV).

The gasoline-powered gMAV has just received an experimental airworthiness certificate from the US Federal Aviation Administration, clearing the way for the ground-breaking experiment. Approval was granted following a demonstration flight for the FAA at a remote site in Laguna, New Mexico.

Instead of "Plastics Benjamin", in 2008 it's "Silicon Benjamin"

From Red Herring

Suntech Power Holding’s weaker-than-expected earnings report caused solar stocks to dip Wednesday and heightened fears that high silicon prices could dampen industry profits in coming quarters.

“This makes everyone wake up to the polysilicon constraint in the near-term,” said ThinkEquity Partners Managing Director Jonathan Hoopes.

He said he and his team had expected Suntech’s solar PV cell production to ramp up in parallel with its production capacity. But in response to high prices for silicon—a critical component of conventional solar PV cells—the company chose to maintain its margins and limit its production last year.

That meant the Chinese solar cell and module manufacturer reported 2007 earnings and revenue that fell short of analyst expectations. The company had $1.348 billion in revenue for 2007, an increase of 125 percent from the year-ago period. But analysts on average had expected $1.37 billion, according to a survey by Thompson Financial.

Suntech reported earnings of $1.02 per share last year on a GAAP basis. But analysts had expected $1.09 per share.

The company’s shares plunged $5.65, or 12.31 percent, at the end of trading. Other solar stocks followed Suntech’s drop. China-based LDK Solar’s stock was down more than 6 percent at the market close, and shares of California-based SunPower dropped nearly 4 percent.

New Energy Finance analyst Nathaniel Bullard said those solar companies with silicon-supply contracts in place will fare better than those without. The research firm predicts the limited supply of the critical material will continue until mid-2009, when lower silicon prices should pass through to lower module prices.

In the meantime, Mr. Bullard said the global market for silicon has little transparency and prices are highly discretionary. That means companies with longer-term relationships get better prices, and new entrants have little bargaining power because the deals are hidden, he said.

Google like a spoiled rich kid - they want everything

From GigaOm

Google, according to The Wall Street Journal is thinking about teaming up with Space Data Corp., a company that sends balloons carrying small (micro) base stations about 20 miles up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies. The balloons burst almost every 24 hours and need to be sent up again and again. The electronic payload is retrieved by farmers after it drifts back using a small parachute. The farmers do it because they get $100 per payload retrieved, WSJ says.

The Internet giant — which is now pushing into wireless services — has considered contracting with Space Data or even buying the firm, according to one person…Google believes balloons like these could radically change the economics of offering cellphone and Internet services in out-of-the-way areas, according to people familiar with its thinking.

Given that there is only one anonymous source that is linked to Google, I remain highly skeptical of this plan. And if it is true, then it is yet another example of Google having more money than knowing what to spend it on, which in itself is a dangerous sign for its investors.

Bye Bye Castro, Hello Green Backs


Trading volume into the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, "which aims to profit from the resumption of U.S. trade with Cuba," is up a whopping 215 times since this morning's announcement that Fidel Castro will end his 49-year reign as the country's leader. Shares in the fund have zoomed 20 percent on the day.

More News From the Frontline of the Water War

From the NY Times. Click here for more water wars stories.

Lake Mead, the vast reservoir for the Colorado River water that sustains the fast-growing cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas, could lose water faster than previously thought and run dry within 13 years, according to a new study by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.The lake, located in Nevada and Arizona, has a 50 percent chance of becoming unusable by 2021, the scientists say, if the demand for water remains unchanged and if human-induced climate change follows climate scientists’ moderate forecasts, resulting in a reduction in average river flows.

Demand for Colorado River water already slightly exceeds the average annual supply when high levels of evaporation are taken into account, the researchers, Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce, point out. Despite an abundant snowfall in Colorado this year, scientists project that snowpacks and their runoffs will continue to dwindle. If they do, the system for delivering water across the Southwest would become increasingly unstable.

If I'm Obama, every speech now mentions how much respect he has for John McCain and his Lady Friend

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BC Lays It on the Line

From ABC.

There's a Texas-sized stumbling block on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's comeback trail.

Even Clinton's most devoted surrogate -- her husband, Bill Clinton -- acknowledged the do-or-die stakes on Wednesday in Beaumont, Texas, conceding that a loss in Texas or Ohio would likely doom her candidacy.

"If she wins Texas and Ohio I think she will be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you," the former president told the audience at the beginning of his speech...

Moishe: You Should Have Worked Harder on Your Post Moves, Less on Your Bar Mitzvah Chanting

From the NY Times.

Keith Van Horn earned $4.3 million on Tuesday, for nothing more than a signature and a flight to New Jersey. Aaron McKie earned $750,000 a few weeks ago for a few pen strokes and a trip to Memphis. Retirement from the N.B.A. has never been so profitable.

In a league with a salary cap, a luxury tax and a collective bargaining agreement as thick as a bank-vault door, general managers occasionally need extreme measures to make a trade. Two recent blockbuster deals illustrate the point.

The Dallas Mavericks could not have acquired Jason Kidd on Tuesday without Van Horn’s participation as a trading chip sent to the Nets to balance salaries, per N.B.A. rules. Van Horn last played in 2006. The Los Angeles Lakers could not have acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis on Feb. 1 without using McKie — who was working as a Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach — in a similar sign-and-trade arrangement.

McKie has yet to play a minute for the Grizzlies. It would be surprising if Van Horn plays for the Nets before his contract expires in June. They are virtual ghosts on their rosters, appearing in name only. (McKie’s official page on still shows him in a Lakers jersey.)

To the general public, it looks like a shell game — a feat of economic gymnastics that has nothing to do with basketball or the wisdom of a particular trade. And that is essentially an accurate summation.
This is all made possible because of the N.B.A.’s arcane rules governing trades. Generally speaking, teams that are already over the salary cap have to balance salaries in a trade — taking back as much as they send away, give or take 25 percent.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You have heard of Jewish Gangsters, what do you know about Jewish Pirates?

From Boing Boing

A forthcoming, untitled book by historian Ed Kritzler argues that many of the "Spanish" pirates of the Caribbean were in fact Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews who took to the seas to flee/avenge the Inquisition.

While some Jews, like Samuel Pallache, took up piracy in part to help make a better life for expelled Spanish Jews, Kritzler said others were motivated by revenge for the Inquisition.

One such pirate was Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history's largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Dutch West India Co. Admiral Piet Hein, whose own hatred of Spain was fueled by four years spent as a galley slave aboard a Spanish ship. Henriques and Hein boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized shipments of New World gold and silver worth in today's dollars about the same as Disney's total box office for "Dead Man's Chest."

Henriques set up his own pirate island off the coast of Brazil afterward, and even though his role in the raid was disclosed during the Spanish Inquisition, he was never caught, Kritzler told The Journal.

MSFT to Yahoo - "You're Mine"

SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. will authorize a proxy battle for Yahoo Inc. this week to convince the Web company's shareholders to agree on a takeover deal that the Yahoo board so far has rejected, the New York Times' DealBook blog said on Tuesday.

Quoting people briefed on the matter, the Times Web site said that Microsoft, which has been expected to raise its cash-and-stock bid originally worth $44.6 billion, would seek to nominate a slate of directors by March 13, if Yahoo's board did not enter talks.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company had always maintained it reserves the right to exercise all options but declined to comment specifically on the DealBook report.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters a proxy fight would cost about $20 million to $30 million but was not aware of Microsoft making the decision to pursue the fight.

"Microsoft is doing the smart thing. It's giving both the carrot and the stick," said Morningstar analyst Toan Tran. "The carrot was the big premium on Yahoo stock and now the stick is the threat of a proxy fight."

Proxy fights waged by corporations to facilitate a hostile acquisition are rare and represent less than 5 percent of all proxy fights since 2001, according to data from research firm FactSet SharkWatch.

Chairman Bill Gates told Reuters on Monday that there was "nothing new" in the Yahoo takeover process. "We've sent our letter and we've reinforced that we consider that it's a very fair offer," he said.

The two companies are at a stand-off in Microsoft's unsolicited bid to acquire Yahoo. Microsoft has offered to buy Yahoo for $31 a share in cash and stock, a bid which Yahoo's board rejected, saying it undervalued the company.

Microsoft countered by saying that its offer was "full and fair," but did not say what it planned to do next.

The deal is now worth $41.9 billion due to the decline of value in Microsoft's stock.

The fees for paying lawyers and solicitation firms to wage a proxy fight are a fraction of what it would cost Microsoft to raise its offer. For every dollar the offer is increased, it would cost Microsoft an additional $1.4 billion.

If Microsoft decides to launch a proxy fight, it would nominate a slate of directors to take control of Yahoo's board and support the company's proposal. The nominees would be voted on at Yahoo's annual shareholder meeting in June.

A Yahoo-Microsoft proxy fight would be largest corporate proxy fight in the eight years FactSet SharkWatch has been tracking statistics on this, it said.

Microsoft shares rose on the Nasdaq. The stock is down 12 percent since the offer for Yahoo went public.

Shares of Yahoo dropped. The value of Microsoft's cash and stock offer currently stands at $29.18.